How to Cope with Exam Failure

Sometimes it can be very difficult to predict the outcome of your exams, whether you be in secondary school or even university. This is probably because, exams are arguably one of the most feared things in education for students. Whether a student is confident in their abilities in their chosen subject(s) or not,  exams can often both predictably and unpredictably bring out the best, and more than often, the worst, in a student.

If the worst does happen, failing your exams can be one of the most devastating experiences for a student, especially when they were not expecting to fail their exams.

One way to cope with exam failure, is to talk to people. Talk to your family, talk to your friends, discuss the options you can take now that you’ve had your exam results back. One thing you must remember, is that failing your exams is not the end of the world. Exam failure is one of the many hurdles you’ll have to surpass in your life, and there are always possibilities to learn and rise above failure. After all, I’m sure most of you have heard the saying ‘failure makes you stronger’. Funnily enough, it really does. It gives you an understanding of what it means to fail, to lose, to receive a negative outcome that you may not have expected to get.

A common worry amongst students who have failed some of their exams, is that they’ll now never be able to get the job they wanted after graduating, or even the university degree they were first opting for. Wrong. You should never let exam failure force you into believing that you now can’t achieve any of your dreams. Sure, some things will be harder to reach, but that doesn’t make them unreachable. Failing exams doesn’t make you any less of a person, any less intelligent, or any less able to achieve what you want to, than those who may have gotten better results in their exams than you.

Personally, I found coping with failing my exams very hard. This was mostly because, I’d never failed an exam in my life, I was a straight A/A* student. The lowest grade I’d ever tasted was the one B I’d got in my GCSEs. Unfortunately, my parents and I made the wrong decision in enrolling me in the International Baccalaureate programme in my school, where teachers were incapable of teaching the IB to us properly, and despite being the brightest/highest achievers in the entire school, we all failed (or, at least got very low marks, still passing the IB, but not getting our first choice of university, if any.). I’d never experienced failure before, and on top of knowing that if I had chosen to do A levels, I would have achieved at least straight As, my IB exam results had made it so that I didn’t get into any of the universities of my choice, even though I knew I was more than worthy/capable of attending them. Not only that, but the fact that my parents and friends also expected me to get high marks, made it feel as if I had not only failed myself, but my family and friends, when I failed. It felt horrible, like everything I had known, and my chosen path through my future, had all crumbled before me, leaving me feeling helpless and isolated. Admittedly, I spent two weeks crying non-stop in my bedroom. Once I’d gotten myself together, I sent hundreds of emails out to various universities, including my first choice (LSE) and insurance choice (Edinburgh), explaining to them what had happened. Unfortunately, LSE came to the decision that my grades were two low compared to their asking grade, and rejected me (they were actually very understanding about what happened though, unfortunately it was their policy to decline students who’d gotten 4 grades or more under their asking grade). Edinburgh also declined me. What upset me the most was that I’d already gotten the halls of my choice at LSE, and they even had the ‘cheek’ to send me an email telling me so, even after they had rejected me. I’d never felt so upset in my life. Everyone and everything felt mocking, nasty, and against me. The worst thing was, I KNEW that if I’d have chosen to do A Levels, I would’ve gotten at least A A A, and would’ve gotten into LSE easily.  I was constrained, and constricted by my low IB grades.

How did I combat my failure? I worked hard to get other universities to recognise my potential, without judging me through just my IB grades. I sent emails and called up every university I could think of who had courses on offer that interested me. I bombarded them with samples of my written work, art work, work experience, letters from my teachers, everything. And due to my persistence, my hard work paid off. I had many universities responding to me, asking me to enrol. I even gained the interest of Durham University. I eventually found a course that interested me, and a university I thought I would thrive in; Goldsmiths. I went from failing my exams and believing I would never get a university place, to being accepted into a university (out of many who offered), meeting wonderful people, having an awesome freshers week, and generally enjoying university life.

The most important thing to remember in such a situation is to remain true to yourself; remember who you are, what your strengths are, what you are capable of doing, and what you want to do, and you will get there.

About Ananya

Biracial British-Indian graduate of History and Anthropology who relishes the social sciences, anthropology, history, colonial, post-colonial and subaltern studies, politics, gender studies and South Asian studies. Research interests: neoliberalism, structural violence, India, South Asia, transnationalism, nationalism, capitalism, social inequality, intersectional feminism, race, caste, religious nationalism, grass roots activism, mental health, gender, displacement, indigenous activism, colonial history of India, hindutva, religion. -- I also have a soft spot for dinosaurs, palaeontology, cats and baby birds.
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28 Responses to How to Cope with Exam Failure

  1. Leela Malur says:

    I don’t think you failed although you may view your experience as such. Getting 32 in IB is quite impressive given the traumas you went through during the 2 years. Circumstances and situations sometimes can set you back . But that you picked yourself up and moved on, is the sign of a person who has understood that obstacles are but stepping stones to success. You did not fail, but just encountered a hurdle.

  2. Pingback: Don’t panic – resits aren’t the end of the world. | Tutorhub Blog

  3. This is truly inspirational, and now I know that not only will I be successful but I have faith within myself and others arOund me, who aid by succession.

    With regards, Jamie Hepburn @j4mieall0ver <twitter name

  4. Kakul Singh says:

    thnxxxxxx a lot……i was severely depressed as i was a straight A student but from past few months my performance was going down ……..now from this monday i will start working towards my goal and work really hard and will always remember your words……

  5. nk says:

    your advice is really inspirational..i did horribly in my mock exams and felt pretty low…thats to ur amazing words i feel a lot better now and am going to try my best to ace the finals…thankyou!

  6. Zaha says:

    I have been a straight A student all my life. But since its my last year of school and I have to do really well to get into my preffered university. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong or if its stress or pressure, but I’m getting really low marks. Reading your story is a source of inspiration to me to do well and that anything is possible with a little perseverance and determination.. Thank you

  7. Really inspirational – I’m currently worrying a lot about my exam results and this has helped.

  8. Doitsuki says:

    The IB makes smart people look like idiots. My life story.

  9. Rashi says:

    I am an IB student in India (junior year). Our school has very bad teachers who don’t know how to teach. I was a straight A student as well but my grades came down when i joined this school. This morning I got my result at the parent teacher conference. I Got 31/42 points despite of having an eye infection for over a month. Yet I studied but could not get the grades.
    However my parents don’t understand. I have been crying constantly since morning.
    They are not letting me do what I want in the future as well. They wanted me to be a doctor, I chose subjects accordingly but I had to drop as I could not cope up. Now they want me to take up economics and I want to pursue sociology and anthropology.
    As soon as I told my father this, he yelled and me and said “don’t you have any clarity or aim in life?, you keep drifting. Nonsense child, can you even spell sociology” This was followed by “you are cheating yourself and you are cheating on us, stop wasting our money”.

    I cry almost every night because it is hard to manage. Someone help me here.

    • ananyarm says:

      Hi Rashi, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through that! I completely understand, I went through exactly the same thing with my IB results. A lot of IB students, both here in the UK and around the world have had difficulty achieving grade targets, especially in correlation with our pre-IB grades, where most of us have previously been extremely high achievers (and hence, our schools have often recommended that we do the IB!). Your grades in IB are in no way a reflection of your ability, intelligence and potential to succeed in life. I know how difficult it can be to have IB grades that you find disappointing, but they do not define you as a person, and they will not hold you back from achieving what you want to achieve in the future. There are A LOT of flaws in the IB system, and many of my peers have suffered in a similar way to how both you and I have suffered during IB. This is not your fault. Your grades are not a reflection of your ability, it is a reflection of the incapability of the IB system and your teachers. If you’re still in your junior year of IB, have you considered leaving IB and switching to an equivalent assessment method that you find more comfortable?

      In my opinion, at the end of your day, it is important to study what makes you happy. I’m an anthropology student studying my degree in London, but while I was still in high school, I was very troubled and confused about what I wanted to pursue at university level. I’m so sorry that your parents are approaching your decision to study sociology and anthropology in that way :-(. Parents always want the best for their children, and I’m sure that your parents think that becoming a doctor is the safest and most reliable way for you to support yourself after you graduate. If you want to study sociology and anthropology, I would consider arguing your case to your parents and convince them that studying these subjects would allow you to support yourself in the same way becoming a doctor would. It’s always difficult to be clear about what you want to do in the future at such a young age, especially with the added pressure of completing your IB diploma. Hesitating or asserting what you want to do at university level does not make you a drifter and it does not make you indecisive, it’s perfectly natural, especially for someone your age!

      No matter what happens, whether you get the grades you want to or not, this does not render you a failure. It does not make you a bad person. It does not mean you have failed your parents. It just makes the path to your goals a little longer – but that’s okay! Everyone has to undergo certain hurdles in their lives, whether they be small ones, or really big ones that make us cry, and makes it seem like we’ll never achieve what we want to achieve, you CAN get through them!

      I used to beat my self up over getting bad grades in the IB every, single day since I left high school, and it completely wrecked me inside and ruined my self-esteem. I convinced myself that what I had achieved was not good enough and that if I had chosen to do A-levels (the UK national assessment method for sixth-formers) I would have been able to go to the university that I originally wanted to study at, and it would have been a lot easier for me to get where I wanted to be. Even if that’s true, the only thing that my bad IB grades have changed, is the path to my goals. It hasn’t changed my goals, it’s just made the path to achieving them a little more difficult, or a little longer.

      Feel free to contact me here on my WordPress profile if you want to talk about this further!

      All the best,

      Ananya

  10. failure says:

    Wow.thank you i know for a fact that I failed IB Bio.but after reading this

  11. noel kamau says:

    failing my final high school exam is the worst thing that happens to someone.
    When everyone hav got expectations high
    that happened to me.
    Its not the best of experience.
    Bt you dnt just sit there as i have been doing for the past like six months.
    You have to o something to prove to yourself nt anyone that you got what it takes tn realise your dreams.and if they are dead dream again. There is a whole life ahead.

  12. cara says:

    I just got back my first year uni results (I’m a law student at one of the Russell Group unis), and even though I know first year doesn’t count, I feel like a complete failure after having gotten one 2:1, a bunch of 2:2s and a couple thirds. What’s more, I worked so hard for these summer exams – basically spent the past four months with my head down and revising. What’s really annoying about Law is that employers do actually look at first year transcripts and the marks you get because 2nd and 3rd year marks won’t be revealed as it goes towards the final degree grade. I feel like I’ve suffered a major setback; I’m far away from the ballpark marks required to get into a decent Law School to qualify to be a solicitor, and I don’t know what to do. I’m so desperate that I’m even looking for alternative career pathways, but everything seems to just be a senseless tangent that I’m going round and round, always returning to square one… I can’t do anything remotely sciencey after my law degree because I didn’t do any science based subjects at sixth form.

    To be fair though, I am extremely relieved that I even managed to pass first year (it’s been a year of much reflection and ‘finding myself’ in a whole new environment.. I haven’t really been out drinking or participating in as many societies as I really should have been..), but there’s this irritating, niggling feeling that I’ve let down my parents and my friends. And that I’ve wasted a whole year’s worth of uni fees which really doesn’t come cheap.

    I know that these grades are not the end of the world – I will work harder for second and third year, when it really counts. I just wanted to tell someone (that aren’t my friends or my family) about how I’m feeling. Yeah. That’s it. Thanks for reading if you somehow managed to patiently plough through my rambling. 🙂

  13. pato says:

    I am maltese and here in Malta in order to be admitted to the medical course you need to get a B or A in advanced level biology and chemistry and a B or A in intermediate physics. I started really hard for two whole years, I never studied this hard like these two years, it was my dream my only thing keeping me going forward knowing that I would have become a doctor and now that i received my results I got an A in biology and an A in physics but a C in chemistry. I failed badly. There is a certain student who got a B in all three and got admitted and I always used to do better than her in other tests and exams. I really want to just commit suicide.

  14. Emma Louise says:

    I read this after getting my exam results today. Like you, LSE was my first choice to attend next year (I’m now in my final year of school). I needed AAAB minimum this year, then AAB next year. I completely screwed up and got AACD. I couldn’t be more gutted if I tried. However, this has made me feel a lot better, although I still feel like such a failure. My preferred course is limited to around 6 universities across Britain, and I really don’t know how to react.

    Thank you for creating this article, I feel so much more happy rather than crying to myself for hours on end.

  15. Ophelia says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I found this today after failing one of my exams, and feeling like complete crap. Your article really encouraged me, and showed me that failing an exam doesn’t define me and that I don’t have to feel discouraged or have lower self esteem because of a low grade.

    Props to your hard work!! 🙂 Your determination and boldness is a breath of fresh air.

  16. Mukuka says:

    I have failed a course. How to I regain my strength.

  17. ikshit says:

    Ty ty vry mch 4 sch a useful advic dat ur blog gv me whyl copin up wid my failur . . . ! ! !

  18. mandy says:

    I felt so devastated today after failing two of my courses, i’m a medical student and there’s a high chance of me repeating. I’ve cried my eyes out, i dont know how to tell my parents, i locked myself up in an old room refusin to attend class again, have refused to pick my calls,almost using blade to cut myself up. I felt so bad cuz amongst my friends i was the only one who failed, am ashamed of myself, i wud ve easily cheated like them but i did not and nw here’s d outcm, rummaging over my fone I went to this blog, which am really greatful for, cuz i feel a lot better and am ready to come out of my hiding and work harder. It wont be easy of course but am ready to turn my failures into stepping stones. Tnx a lot.

  19. MD muru says:

    Really inspiring n motivating!! GReat 2 c plp like u!!! Thanks because ur life hve became a booster 4 those like who afraid of failures!! 😀

  20. Genevieve says:

    Well, I’m also a student pursuing a university education nd after failing my entrance exam, my dad lost all his interest and focus in me and he has made my life a living hell. I try in various ways to please him but he still reminds me of my failure everytime I make a mistake but thanks to a programme I wanna go for to ensure my admission into college and this inspiring message, I will make sure that I make it happen nd I regain all my dad’s focus and trust in me. Tanks a lot. This really helped. With love from:Genevieve

  21. gabriel says:

    Thank you for your words of encouragement God bless you.

  22. futile attemps says:

    I am an IB student, my registration date is close and the teacher said she will not send in my registration as she does not want to harm the school’s reputation. My parents are very upset and so am I. I am about to lose a year and my career because I was to lazy to study. All my promises to study hard are no futile, I do not know what to do. Pp

  23. Felicity says:

    I failed my 1st year at university. I feel very stupid coz i was the best studnt @ high school i dissapointed every1 😥

  24. Felicity says:

    im just grateful to whoever created this..i wont lie,im still hurt but now i know im not a failure,just got a setback

  25. John says:

    Thank you soo much for this experience. My case was just like yours. I was used to getting a centum every time in Mathematics. But once, I did one exam really badly. I felt really bad, but managed to pick myself up.

  26. Pingback: Top Tips: Coping With Exam Failure | Tutorhub Blog

  27. Robert says:

    Thank you for the inspirational article! I’m struggling at the moment – I received my IB results on the 6th July 2013 and have never been able to get out of a completely self-destructive state of mind… it got to the stage where I did think of committing as well as attempting suicide by drowning and then by alcohol poisoning courtesy of a 70cl bottle of whiskey. I’ve refused to speak to anyone about it and just locked myself in my room crying. I tried to pick myself up by retaking the subjects I did poorly in but when I got the results on the 6th January 2014 the results hadn’t changed – I feel like such a failure compared to everyone in my family who have been to University. Sometimes I wonder what if I did A-Levels… maybe I would have done better.

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